Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Who’s butch NOW?

I just bet $11 in an office Splendid Bowl pool. Apparently the Splendid Bowl is some kind of sporting event that will be happening this weekend while I’m busy folding and ironing doll panties or whatever it is I do on the weekends.

And now I’m flush with Splendid Bowl FEVER! I hope my team wins!

How to do a gay cruise

What to pack
As with most cruises, you’ll want to pack the basics: shorts, tank tops, flip-flops, sunscreen, tiara. But you’ll also need gay essentials like multiple swim suits because gay men are bitches who will keep track of what you wear. And fancy underwear because there will be a hypnotist show and if you volunteer to be hypnotized, you will eventually find yourself standing on stage in nothing but your underwear. Again: You will be judged by the brand and age-appropriateness of your underwear choices, with bonus points awarded for color selections that complement your skin tones.

There are also themed parties that require costume compliance: polyester and big sunglasses for the ’70s party, camouflage shorts for the military party, monochromatic creativity for the white party, body dysmorphia for the you will never look as good as everyone else party.

What to wear
Every cruise seems to have its own fashion trend. Last year, the theme was sweatbands worn just below the elbow—a look that says I will wear anything, no matter how ridiculous or desperate it looks, to show that I am not a 30-year-old businessperson but actually a high-school jock with a sweaty elbow problem. The theme this year was deeply cut V-neck T-shirts, a look that combines the casual masculinity of a drag queen in her foundation garments, the raw sensuality of a sweaty old man who yells at kids and the anal thermometry of a social-climbing fashionista.

Preventing disease
Something must have happened on a recent Royal Caribbean cruise. Something not very nice. Because the whole week we were on the ship, we were body-blocked by disinfectant-towelette-wielding crew members who made us wipe our hands before we entered any eating establishment. On the plus side, I never heard about anyone getting sick all week on our cruise. At least not from the food. We did encounter a number of people convulsing on the floor after consuming other ingestibles. And we heard the ship’s infirmary bills started in the $1,500 range. Which seems like an appropriate idiot tax on drug use.

Surviving customs
I never get through customs without a pointless holdup. Once when I was on a business trip to Toronto, the agent in Canada demanded to hear a detailed primer on marketing theory, presumably to make sure I wasn’t trying to sneak into his country without declaring my real job as a millionaire or janitor or international dancing sensation. This trip, as two customs agents were slowly processing the almost 4,000 passengers trying to get off the ship, my customs agent first accused me of looking fatter than my 5-year-old picture (I’ve weighed within five pounds of 190 since I got out of college 18 years ago, thankyouverymuch). Then when he noticed I wasn’t wearing the glasses that show in my passport photo, he grilled me about LASIK, as though to catch me in the elaborate lie I had concocted about having $3,000 eye surgery just so I wouldn’t have to wear my glasses on international waters.

How to dance
Dance as though you are filled with unspeakable joy. As though you are celebrating with the gods in Xanadu. As though you are floating through a world where for once you are the majority. Where you don’t feel afraid to be who you are. Where your rights aren’t bartered for hate votes. Where being gay is so commonplace it becomes irrelevant. You are never more than a few hours away from an epic dance party on a gay cruise. And despite all my snarky exaggerations here, I love my people. By and large, we all love each other. And I find there is no better way to channel our shared exuberance on a gay cruise than to bounce and smile and woot and pump our arms in the air with our friends and our loved ones and our extended community of family as we sail together through elysian seas of deafening thump-thump music and warm Caribbean air.

Stay tuned for more cruise news and reports and gossip. And pictures!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

We're back!

And we never even took our camera out of its cute little camera bag for the whole week. But! Our friends totally took thousands of pictures on the cruise. And since our camera totally sucks and their cameras totally rock, our laziness totally paid off. So I'll be posting their pictures on my blog.

Just as soon as they find the time to upload them to some kind of site where I can download them to my hard drive and repost them here. So you're gonna have to wait.

It's also late and I'm too tired to write about all our adventures right now. But! I still have some pictures to show you.

You see, the Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas has this FlowRider thing, which one comedienne on the ship said was a name better suited to a lesbian form of entertainment than a general gay form of entertainment. But I'm just gonna leave that comment alone. The FlowRider is actually a surfing simulator that shoots a sheet of water up a 45° incline with intense force. And if you suck at surfing on it—like I do—it's fun just to wipe out and have the water shoot your limp, helpless body up the incline.

This being Royal Caribbean, there are photographers everywhere who take unflattering pictures of you doing everything from dining to sunning yourself to pretending to surf. And since these pictures are available for purchase at laughingly high prices, I usually just smile for the cameras and walk away. Unfortunately, I happened to see the pictures they took of me on the FlowRider, and one of them makes my dainty little shoulders look totally huge. So I had to buy it. And before I tuck it in a photo album and never look at it again, I thought I should scan it to post here to justify the fact that I spent the equivalent of a week's groceries on it:

It took about seven wipeouts before I was able to loosen my death grip on the boogie board and attain some semblance of verticality. So I'm posting a second week's groceries worth of proof that—even at 39—I still have my sense of balance. If not my dignity. Or my suntan:

Come back soon for all the pictures that didn't cost me a thing and the details of the itchy sunburn I eventually developed and the stories of the famous person we saw drunk off her ass on the ship!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Are you gluten sensitive?

If you can’t tolerate gluten, you probably already know how horrible gluten-free foods can taste. And how impossible it is to eat—and maybe actually enjoy—a truly gluten-free diet. Until now.

Introducing Click on this festive logo to discover a world of delicious gluten-safe baking products:

Meet gluten
Gluten is the mixture of proteins left over after the starch has been removed from wheat. Its chainlike molecules make gluten essential for baking because they stretch under high heat, trapping carbon dioxide and giving bread products their spongy, airy texture.

Gluten is also used as an adhesive filler in thousands of other foods from salad dressings to ice creams to vitamins to deli meats. And, of course, you can’t escape gluten if you want to enjoy sandwiches, chips, pizza, fast foods, cakes, pies … even beer.

Gluten for punishment
If you’re gluten-sensitive and diligent enough to read the labels in the grocery store, you can avoid many gluten-filled products. But if you have severe gluten intolerance, even a little exposure to gluten can be harmful. Severe intolerance makes it hard to “cheat” on your diet even for one meal, and eating in restaurants can be out of the question.

In mild cases, gluten sensitivity just gives you an upset stomach. Severe gluten intolerance, though, can trigger a catastrophic autoimmune response. In the presence of gluten, your immune system starts destroying your villi—the tiny, fingerlike projections in your small intestine that absorb nutrients from food. And when you get no nutrients from the foods you eat, you can develop anemia, osteoporosis, depression, stunted growth and behavioral problems in children, and even type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

It’s a family thing
Gluten sensitivity is hereditary, and it appears with higher frequency in people of Scandinavian descent. Like my sister.

She was diagnosed soon after she graduated from college, and she’s spent the last 15 years struggling to find foods she could eat that didn’t taste like sludge. There was almost nothing available in America, but while visiting friends in Norway a few years ago, she discovered a line of gluten-free products there that were actually delicious.

But having them shipped every few months to America was expensive. So she did the next best thing: She and her husband landed exclusive U.S. distribution rights to the entire product line. After a year of travel and negotiations and all the other fun things involved in setting up a business, their first shipment is finally en route to America.

And their web site—ingeniously named—is up and running. It’s not ready to take orders just yet, but it can take your name and email address and alert you when you can start buying their great products.

Visit the site every day for a week
Because you won’t be hearing from me for a while. We leave today for a week-long Atlantis cruise out of Miami, and I don’t plan on even looking at a computer until I’m baked to a golden brown and all caught up on my New Yorkers. Have fun and eat like a ... um ... gluten while I’m gone!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

ChicagoRound: Chicago River, north shore

I love this block where State Street crosses the Chicago River. It houses a fabulous juxtaposition of architectural styles and shapes and ideas.

The roundish buildings in the center of the picture are Bertrand Goldberg's iconic 1964 Marina City towers. Known colloquially as Chicago's corncob buildings, they're most famous to people of a certain generation as the implied office location of Bob Newhart's psychology practice. The twin 65-story towers contain a collective 900 pie-shaped condominiums with semi-circular balconies atop two 19-story spiral parking ramps. The complex comprises two other organically shaped buildings: a mid-rise hotel supported by abstract Gothic arches (hidden by the towers in this picture) and the saddle-shaped House of Blues concert hall, which you can see crouching in the bottom left corner. (Incidentally, the sharp corner sticking up over the House of Blues is my old office building.)

In stark, austere contrast to Marina City's explosion of curves and shapes and movement, the square building to the right (on the other side of State Street) is Mies van der Rohe's 330 North Wabash building (originally the IBM Building). It was finished in 1973, four years after van der Rohe died. This modernist black-box aesthetic clearly espouses van der Rohe's "less is more" philosophy: efficient construction, modern industrial materials, simple rectilinear and planar forms, clean lines, pure use of color and—above all—a conspicuous lack of ornamentation.

The building at the far right is Skidmore, Owings and Merrill's still-under-construction Trump International Hotel and Tower. Slated for completion in 2009, it promises to become the second tallest building in Chicago, after the Sears Tower. While I loath almost everything about the building's blowhard namesake, I'm really liking this gracefully curved, tastefully shimmery highrise. And I love the way its three setbacks will nod to the heights of the buildings around it: the Wrigley Building, the Marina City towers and 330 North Wabash.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Dear Chicago Transit Authority,

I have no idea how you got us so far into this financial mess. This bottomless deficit. This month-to-month bouncing between dire warnings of service shutdowns and 11th-hour proclamations of emergency funding.

I’m no economist, but I’ve always assumed that public transportation functioned as a tax-revenue loss leader—something a population-dense municipality practically gives away on the calculated assumption that its citizens will ride its subsidized trains and buses to their jobs, where they’ll generate huge amounts of revenue that can be taxed. Or they’ll take those trains and buses to go shopping, where they’ll make purchases that can be taxed. Or at the very least, their collective presence on those trains and buses will exponentially reduce vehicle traffic and road depreciation, saving money on repair costs.

Not to sound snarky and self-righteous, but it stands to reason that a population sitting at its desks or working in its stores or exploring its retail districts as consumers generates significantly more taxable revenue than a population waiting for a bus that never comes.

But what’s done is done, and we’re all waiting expectantly and with admirable patience for you to get the problem fixed.

Most of us are demonstrating admirable patience, that is. I’m here to warn you that you have officially lost the faith of one very angry, very suspicious and very talkative conspiracy theorist. He was at my bus stop yesterday morning, poring over the formidable list of threatened bus routes you’d just posted. And as soon as I walked up, I got to hear all about it. About how Blagojevich and Daley are working together to destroy the CTA in an effort to drive away the Olympics. About how Eisenhower’s interstates spelled the beginning of the end of public transportation in large cities. About how the buses sometimes smell like pee.

I have to admit, I totally agre with him on that last point.

And because your buses tend to show up at greater and greater intervals, I had to listen to this guy for 20 freaking minutes. I even whipped out my cell phone and started sending text messages to everyone I could think of to signal my loss of interest in his narrative. And you know what? He kept talking anyway. Even though I was rudely ignoring him.

And for this, I have only you to blame. You and your irresponsible budgeting. You and your political failures. You and your Olympic-hating, interstate-resentful, pee-drenched agenda to bring Chicago to a literal and financial halt.

Plus the fact that you have something called a “Brown Line,” which I think is totally funny.

Monday, January 14, 2008

How to go on a gay cruise

Step 1. Sell a kidney
Seriously. Taking an Atlantis cruise is about as expensive as buying your own boat. Fortunately, the fiancé and I still had one good kidney between us, and we booked the cruise early enough that we got one of those cheaper inner staterooms that have curtains where you'd expect a window to be but when you pull back the curtains there's just a wall there. Or maybe a painting of an ocean. Or—if you're lucky—a pass-through window from the pastry kitchen.

Step 2: Buy costumes
Gay men can't throw a party without a theme. (True story: My friend Bill once threw a party to celebrate his new custom closets.) And if the theme is fun enough, even the gay men who call themselves "straight acting" (a term used wholly without irony by gay guys who see nothing ridiculous about Larry Craig) will deign to play along. True to form, Atlantis has planned parties for every day of the cruise with themes as goofy as "Under the Sea," as subject to creative interpretation as "Tribü" and as simple as "White Party." Many men on our cruise will attend these parties in elaborate, custom-designed costumes that will require extra luggage charges just to get them on the ship. Many more of us will simply use our god-given talents at accessorizing and employ small packables like hats and color-coordinated tank tops to maintain thematic compliance. And even though the fiancé and I have known about these parties since we booked the cruise a year ago, we waited until this weekend to start shopping. Which means we won't be attending the White Party as Olympic decathlon champions because nobody sells white track pants in January. At least not in tall sizes. But we have some day-glo jeans and beads for the Mardi Gras party and Australian bushman hats and camo shorts for Tribü and some even less creative ideas for the other parties. And everything will fit nicely in our regular luggage and no individual piece cost more than $12. And nothing says party hearty like cheap accessories!

Step 3: Moisturize!
In less than a week, we'll be baring our pasty-white skin on a ship in the Caribbean. The ship will be filled with gay men. Gay men who do not understand clogged pores. Or wrinkles. Or hangnails. So I had a bit of a spa day on Saturday. Since people will be seeing my toes for the first time since the marathon, I figured I at least owed everyone the courtesy of having my callouses removed. Unfortunately, my pedicurist was what we will euphemistically call too stupid to notice me sitting all alone in the waiting room. So by the time she "finally found" me after her exhaustive search of Siberia or wherever she thought I was "hiding," we'd lost half an hour. So I had an abbreviated foot scrub. A mini-pedi, if you will. But she still managed to make my feet look so soft and pretty I want to write a song about them.

While I was there, I also had the old-man hairs ripped out of my back—a procedure I subject myself to about once a year, even though it always gives me unsightly bumps and a lingering pile of why-do-I-always-forget-how-much-this-hurts. I also had my first facial, which I was under the impression would be a nice, relaxing experience. But then I also thought Bush couldn't possibly be as big a moron as he sounds like when he talks, so what do I know? Facials, for the uninitiated, do indeed include layers of moisturizers and soothing temple rubs and warm, steamy towels. But if you suffer from the heartbreak of blackheads, they also include belt sanders and jackhammers and possibly waterboarding if that's what it takes to get the gunk out of your pores. HOW COME NOBODY TOLD ME THIS? Apparently I had acres of gunk-filled pores on my nose alone. The aesthetician even grunted a few times as she struggled to dislodge my shameful buildup. But once the swelling went down and the redness cleared up and the pain-induced temporary blindness corrected itself, my face looked almost as pretty as my feet. And that's all anyone can really ask for.

I just hope I stay this beautiful until Friday, when we pack up our cheap hats and board our plane and start enjoying our theme-filled vacation. Then as long as I can maintain my facade and hold in my stomach non-stop for one full week, it should be the most relaxing vacation ever.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Overheard at the gym

Russian trainer: Tell me when you start feel my pain.

Dude getting his hamstrings stretched by Russian trainer: OUCH! What did you say?

RT: Tell me when you start feel my pain.

DGHHSBRT: OW. I'm sorry, but I can't understand you.

RT: Tell. Me. When. You. Start. Feel. My. Pain.

DGHHSBRT: OOF. Your pain? This is hurting you as much as it's hurting me?

RT: No ... MY pain. M. I. L. D. ... MY pain.

DGHHSBRT: Ugh. Mild pain? Dude, we crossed that threshold 20 minutes ago.

OK, then ... tell me when starts to hurt.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Holiday greetings from Westdale Mall

I know the holidays are behind us, but it's never too late for a lovely Christmas carol. Like the one I'm playing in this picture with the McKinley Junior High School orchestra at our gala holiday concert in front of the JCPenney at Cedar Rapids' scenic Westdale Mall:

You can tell I'm totally into the music because my eyes are closed. You can tell it's a winter concert because of the coats piled discreetly in the background. Right in front of the picket fence surrounding the dancing Santa display. And by the Hawkeye Rose Bowl pin dwarfing my chest. A quick google search tells me the Hawkeyes went to the Rose Bowl in January 1981, which would have put me in seventh grade. A quick reality check says that a giant football pin doesn't cancel out the fact that I'm playing "Suzy Snowflake" on a mall piano.

Monday, January 07, 2008

No posts for five days means Jake's a dull boy

It's just that there hasn't been much to talk about this last week. Nothing interesting, at least.

Oh, there was the Iowa caucus where most of my lifelong-Republican family members participated as Democrats. (Stay the course, Dubya! It's totally working!) And I bought some of those giant bleach tablets for our toilet tanks. And I drank an entire alcoholic beverage (Mike's cranberry lemonade!) on Saturday night as I played Uno with some friends.

But otherwise, there's just boring stuff to report. Like the fact that I'm STILL writing my Christmas letter, now with the goal of getting it in the mail before June. And that the fiancé and I are eating every chicken breast and raw vegetable in sight and running to the gym every moment that's not nailed down because in two weeks we'll be on a gay cruise and people might know that we had cookies at Christmas.

And I joined Facebook. Which I like much better than MySpace. Because the kids on MySpace add huge sound files and busy background art and unreadable fonts to their profiles, and I just don't approve. And MySpace seems to be infected with email viruses and Asian teenage hookers who pester me to be their friends.

On the other hand, Facebook has a clean, readable, unmodifyable layout. And profiles of people I haven't even thought about in 25 years. And groups with names like Stephen Sondheim Could Kick Your Bitch Ass. And pictures of my friends' parties. Parties that I was conspicuously not invited to. But you can totally tell in the pictures that the people aren't having any fun because I'm not there. Because they have their arms around each other to hold each other up to stave off the collapsing weight of my absence. Even though they're smiling.

Of course, I have no beef with Friendster. Except that nobody uses it anymore. Then again, how does a person "use" a social networking site? I mean beyond the wasting-time-online definition of "use"—a definition that could never be applied to blogging. Especially to information-filled posts like this one.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

ChicagoRound: City Hall

Chicago's City Hall, built between 1905 and 1911, is a classical revival structure that's both imposing in its heft and nondescript in its standard-issue city-hallishness. It's situated as the old-school corner of a triangle of downtown government buildings that include 1965's black-box Daley Center and 1985's spaceship-in-a-bowl-of-tomato-soup Thompson Center. I've never been beyond the first floor of the City Hall building, but I've always loved its vaulted hallways that maintain their austere symmetry as far as you can see:

Chicago citizens have a range of reasons to visit City Hall, but in my case it's always to clear up fuckups related to owning a car. I spent the last business hours of 2007 traversing these vaulted hallways to pay fines on a license plate sticker that had expired because the renewal form had been sent to my old address. Even though I went in person last January to make sure my address had been updated in every possible city database. Even though I asked repeatedly for confirmation that there was no possible way my old address still existed on something important like maybe a sticker renewal form. But the city's fuckups are always our fault, and I'm now $148 poorer for it all. Which probably was needed to offset the cost of the holiday displays: